2016-10-12 / Editorials

Inappropriate Festival Limits

Benjamin Franklin famously wrote in 1789, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” More than 225 years later, it seems that Franklin was two-thirds correct. While death and taxes are certain, so too are unintended consequences of well-meaning government action.

New rules recently proposed by the city’s Street Activity Permit Office offer a case in point. The rules announce that a serious problem exists in portions of Manhattan, where a glut of street fairs allegedly harms residents’ quality of life, and proposes to do something about it. That is fine, but unfortunately, the agency then proposes to dramatically change the system in all five boroughs, not just Manhattan. And, that is where the unintended consequences come in.

Here in Queens, the impact will be awful.

Some religious feasts in Astoria could be ended, as could street fairs run by local merchants’ associations to promote mom and pop businesses, all because the agency proposes an arbitrary cap of 10 multi-block events in any single community board per year.

In Jackson Heights, the Queens Pride Festival is threatened because the agency wants an unrealistic number of booths reserved for businesses in the immediate vicinity. And in Forest Hills, the popular Austin Street Fair, which runs twice a year and does a great job of promoting local businesses and artists, would be cut to once annually, because the city would stop the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce from running two events in a year.

The solution seems clear: fix the new rules so that the problems in Manhattan are addressed without causing disruption and havoc in other communities. If the city wants to cap the number of events in a single community board, 10 seems like far too low a number. Also, religious observances and events that are not held on major thoroughfares should be excluded; local community boards should be able to waive the cap when it makes sense to do so. Community boards should also be able to waive the silly limit of one event per organization, if the city believes that limit is even really necessary.

And, rather than prohibit booths from around the borough, why not simply require that a certain share of the space be earmarked for little or no cost to local businesses, artists, and non-profits (or the members of the sponsoring groups)?

That way, the city can fix the mess in Manhattan without creating a bunch of new ones in Queens.

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